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Professional Learning Communities

Compiled By: NCPinkTchr

Teachers share experiences with professional learning communities (PLCs) in their schools.

Professional Learning Community (PLC)
Posted by: rebeccav

A PLC is a professional learning community. There are a lot of misconceptions as to what a PLC really is. It is NOT a program. It is NOT a team meeting (in the old sense of the word). It is a process in which teachers use data (any form of agreed upon assessment...a test, a product, a writing sample, anything the kids do) to see how kids are doing, what teachers are doing to meet the needs of the kids. It is collaboration, true collaboration, if it is done correctly. It is a very powerful process that enhances a teachers repetoire and a students learning.

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Teaching at a PLC school
Posted by: johabella

I currently teach 5th grade at a public school that has embodied the PLC philosophy. It's definitely been a lot more work, but has given me great rewards.

This PLC journey is a shift in thinking. There is a shift from a focus on teaching, to a focus on learning. Instead of emphasizing what was taught, we fixate on what students have learned. Coverage of content now takes a backseat to students demonstrating proficiency on essential standards. Teachers work collaboratively and hold each other accountable for the results.

As part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) every educator strives to answer the following questions:

1. What is it we expect students to learn?

2. How will we know when they have learned it?

3. How will we respond when they don't learn?

4. How will we respond when they already know it?

As educators answer these questions, we have a pyramid of interventions in place to meet every student's individual needs. There is a plan for every child's learning! We are reteaching to the students that can't get it the first time, and enriching our students that always get it the first time. It has allowed me to "deepen" the learning of those "high" kids that almost always get forgotten.

As we focus on essential standards, we expect that every child will learn! We will not let students off the hook. Students are expected to meet proficiency on identified skills and concepts for every grade level. A student will be deemed proficient in these areas when they have a score of 70% or above. If a child has not yet met proficiency on grade level skills and concepts, they will be awarded an "I". This "I" reflects "in progress toward grade level skills and concepts". This "I" will be reported on class work, as well as report cards. Once a child has demonstrated proficiency, the grade will then be changed to reflect this achievement. We are the first elementary school in the county to assume such an undertaking and change in practice in our district and are quickly becoming a "model" school for this.

As we continue on our PLC journey, we continue to grow as educators and help all students learn!

I was very skeptical at first, but after doing it this year, I can see my students "moving" and meeting benchmarks that may have been unatainable before. It truly works and I am proud to say that I believe in PLC.

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Posted by: imalith

We also started PLC's this year...if you can call it that. Our principal's plan is to take it slow to get all staff on board. We currently meet in small PLC groups. Our small groups are working on common assessments and we discuss our lessons that lead up to our final common assessment.

Unfortunately, we do not have a "pyramid of intervention". We do not have total staff buy in. And we do not have a method of collaborating across PLC's or even publish our minutes of our meetings to know what other PLC's have accomplished.

In my PLC group and in almost each PLC group, there is at least one person that refuses to collaborate. These people happily take the work of others, but do not contribute except their negative attitudes at meeting. Our principal just tells us that it is "up to us" to bring those people along. I am a hard working, concientious teacher and when my boss tells me to do something, I do. Unfortunately, if you have a colleage that does not want to work, you cannot give them detention or call their parents. What are we supposed to do?

I am currently very frustrated with our PLC situation. While I still have found that I enjoy collaborating with the majority of my group, that one person really can bring the group down.

When I first learned about PLC's I was inspired and impressed. Now I know why they don't work. :(

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Posted by: lenarmc

We are in our second year of Marzano which is the person that came up with PLC's. He has a book out about it.

PLC's are actually for teachers and not students. Professional Learning Community is just a fancy name for the planning that you do as a team/grade level. The purpose of the PLC is to talk about what went on in our classrooms for the week, what worked/didn't work, give ideas on new lessons, get help from fellow team members for teaching a certain skill if your students had a difficult time learning an objective, etc. We also plan our lessons for the next week. Sounds like a grade level planning meeting doesn't it?

We also have what is called Classroom Walk-throughs (CWT) where some administrator comes in and observes your class for 2-4 minutes. In that amount of time, they are supposed to know exactly what's going on in your class. They even ask 4 students what they are doing/learning. The data is compiled and analyzed. Each grade level will get the results. You are also to go over this in your PLC. No one teacher is to be singled out.

It's a lot of work, and my school does a piss poor job of implementing it. We don't have meetings weekly which we are to supposed to. We haven't gotten any feedback on the CWT since October for walkthroughs that occured in September. If it's done correctly, it's a good use of time. However, I take issue with the fact that you know what's going on in a classroom in only 2-4 minutes. The K-2 teachers were told that there was no evidence that homework was done! We also have only had an opportunity to plan about 1-2 times per month.

I think that if it's implemented like it should, it could work. However, my principal is too worried about test scores so that she won't lose her job. Our focus is test results.

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Nothing good to report
Posted by: no plc

A lot of people have asked about PLC's and I always have the same answer: I think the idea is great on paper, but with little training they just don't work. I hate the days my team meet for a PLC because nothing gets accomplished. We all set a time line to teach the same thing at the same time, which is great since every child in each class learns at the same pace and all. We give common assessments that prove our EC and ESL kids are not passing, but do nothing with the data. Our grade leader is totally a cheerleader for the PLC, but seems to be the only one who has bought into it. The general talk among the teachers is that it has created more work and negative attitudes toward one another. I can see myself leaving this profession if I am going to be asked to be a "cookie cutter" teacher.

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3rd Year PLC
Posted by: A&W

This is our 3rd year implementing PLC's. It has been growing and learning experience. We meet once a week during block time for about 1 hour. The PDT (Professional Development Teacher) is wonderful. We are fortunate because she is so knowledgeable and organized, it makes our time very productive. We focus on reading and language arts. This is a school wide initiative, therefore all elementary schools are on the same page. We have district wide formative assessments. Our district is implementing a "Balance Literacy" approach that is modified. We are using a guided reading schedule, shared, ect, to teach language arts and reading.

It gives our grade level time to discuss and catch up with each other as to how our classrooms are functioning or not. It gives us direction as to what area we should be going into or stopping and evaluating what is or not working. We are fortunate because I have heard that other PDT's are not as knowledgeable or organized. The PLC environment has given our grade level and school a cohesiveness that I feel many schools lack. We have now formed new teams that include at least one teacher and ancillary staff member that will meet once a month. These are much larger groups and one member from our grade level will be on a different team. This new group allows us to communicate with other grade levels to discuss what we see of the students coming up and what is working at our level and can be modified for another level.

We can also use the PDT to help us when we have either questions about teaching structure, resources whatever. If we need her to come in and perhaps demonstrate a lesson she will. She comes in to view parts of our teaching to help "coach" us. Even our teachers with 20= years have found it helpful and insightful to have our PDT come in and observe. It also helps because you have other eyes to see what you might be missing.

Yes, it does take the directive from the top for PLC's to work, otherwise it will just flop right on it's face.

I think though that it could be implemented at a site level, it would require a very strong principal to implement it and to keep central office off of your backs.

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building a team
Posted by: Doni

Does your school have any school-wide intiative for building learning communities? Unfortunately in a situation where you have a grade level that everyone does their own thing, it often takes a school-wide initiative to change things. Does your administration like for all teachers on a grade level to be on the same page? If the administration has no problem with lack of cohesion on a grade level, it will be hard for you to make the change. The first thing you guys need to do is to sit down together and honestly assess how you work together as a team. Some of the teachers on your grade level might not even realize that there is a problem, so your first step has got to be everyone getting together to assess problems.

After you all have brainstormed problems on your grade level (honestly - everyone has to feel like they can be 100% honest without fear of reprisal for this to work), then you need to work together to fix the problems. My school is in the beginning stages of this process. We have horribly low morale. Our school-wide survey results (assessing school strengths and weaknesses) were so bad the county thought there was an error in the computer program. After redoing the survey two more times, they learned that the problem wasn't with the computer program. Our situation is so bad and school wide that county administrators are coming in to help us turn the place around. I was sent by the county along with parents and two other teachers to a character education conference to start the basis of our rebuilding program. We are the core team, and we have our work cut out for us. We have done the "needs assessment", but now we have to come back and really be honest and assess exactly what the problems are, and then how are we going to fix them.

PLC school (sorry long, but reflective!)
Posted by: Combow

Two years ago our principal went out of state and heard the Dufours (PLC gurus) talk and came back talking "professional learning communities." One of our staff members was working on his doctorate and chose PLC as his thesis. He shared a brief 30 minute overview of the philosophy, 5-6 staff members went to a week long training and came back but really didn't share much with us. Then about 6 of us went to a week long training with the Dufours during the summer. I was one of those individuals. I could see how in theory it is what all of us need to do. September rolled around and then our principal wanted us to practice being a "true" plc. We met about 30 minutes per week but very informally. We documented "discussions" but never really studied any data other then our state scores. The informality frustrated me because that was not what the training was all about, but I was only one person and quite honestly didn't have the time nor the energy to try to encourage others to do it the right way.

Then this year we have a brand new, young principal who has been trying to "mandate" (although he will deny the word mandate) PLCs. I agree with PLCs in theory and in reading johabella's posts am jealous. It would be great to be at a school where it is "embodied."

The problem is the difficulties with combining the ideals of a true PLC and the realities of being a teacher on the frontline with the students everyday. RTI, NCLB, AYP, State testing, and Differentiated Instruction are just a few of the plates I am trying to juggle. Throw in there 30 students, their parents, my curriculum all within a supposed 8 hour day. Lesson planning, phone calls, staff meetings, committee meetings, Oh, and of course, my own personal life.(?)

If PLCs are going to work, it has to be something (somehow) that the teachers, the frontline, makes work. It has to be real and meaningful to us. It cannot be something that someone tells us we must do or else it is possible that we may lose our jobs. Also, more guidance other than the training I've had, plus a couple of books would be helpful.

How does a teacher who believes in PLCs in theory put it into meaningful practice and balance all of the other demands that are placed on us?

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Posted by: Teach NJ

My district started PLC's this year and they make us use our prep period once a week, as all teachers on a given grade level have prep. at the same time daily. Needless to say teachers pretty much hate this. We were originally told that we would use this period each week to share ideas and do common planning, learn new strategies, review data etc. What this time has actually turned into is our facilitators (sort of head teachers for the building who run back to the principal about everything) loading us with more paperwork to record data on everything you could possibly imagine. There is no real interaction between the teachers, it's more of a lecture on their part of what we need to do. We pretty much sit there and think of all the other things that we could be getting done during the 45 minutes we are sitting there listening to their BS.

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Professional Learning Community
Posted by: Nataliz

I read Marzano's book as part of a school book study last year. It is filled with research. It is very "numbers" oriented. There are lots of statistics to back up what he says. Others at our school had a difficult time because of the numbers. I would assume that as a math teacher, this probably wouldn't be an issue for you. It is filled with strategies to help students make meaning of what they are learning. There is also an interesting chapter regarding the research on homework.

I also really liked Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind. I had tons of ah-ha moments while reading, both for my classroom and my own children. It also contains tons of research to back it up, but seems to be a bit more accessible than Marzano's book. I read it this summer. It's more on how to prime the brain for learning and understanding brain research and how it can be applied to the classroom.

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Posted by: NCP

A couple of years ago at my old school my principal tried this. It was an optional activity for staff, and considering the first meeting was in the summer, a lot of people opted to participate. Well, once school started, the principal didn't really know how to continue with things. He was "busy" and didn't spend the time preparing for meetings. A couple of times he hadn't even done the reading. The meetings started becoming far in between. It was like something that he had heard about, but didn't really spend time learning how to implement. Things really fell apart and never really benefited anyone.

If they are done right, I can see a great benefit to a PLC. But I think unless the leader of the group has training, goals, a vision, and they are willing to invest the time, PLC's will not benefit anyone and leave other participants feeling like they wasted their time.

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Not a choice
Posted by: volstate

In my district, each grade level is required to meet once a week to work collaboratively. Now this works at each school and team is slightly differents. We use this time to discuss lesssons for the next week, problems we may be having ,venting ( if needed), details that we as a team need to work out for upcoming events. Just routine update are sent via email. Also, our school has a calendar feature on the email program. Even our faculty meetings are not "business" items. They are used to teach strategies, provide time to work on portfolios, PLC's, etc.

What I appreciate in a leader is someone who can balance listening with keeping the tasks at hand moving along. The person must be confident in making the final judgement when the team is struggling. The person does need to be timely in presenting information and be willing to go to admin with team concerns. Although, my team often goes all together so we can all voice our concerns.

I wish everyone could work on a team like mine. Each of us understand that we must give and take. One thing we also do is we try to meet outside of school several times a year. We also as a team by birthday presents for the member having a BD. This year, we have a new member coming and hope that his person will fit right in. We are very accepting, so we hope to show her some Southern hospitality.

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